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Robert Baden-Powell

Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell, 1st Baron Baden-Powell also known as B-P or Lord Baden-Powell, was a lieutenant-general in the British Army, writer, and founder of the Scout Movement.

 

After having been educated at Charterhouse School, Baden-Powell served in the British Army from 1876 until 1910 in India and Africa. In 1899, during the Second Boer War in South Africa, Baden-Powell successfully defended the town in the Siege of Mafeking. Several of his military books, written for military reconnaissance and scout training in his African years, were also read by boys. During writing, he tested his ideas through a camping trip on Brownsea Island with the local Boys' Brigade and sons of his friends that began on 1 August 1907, which is now seen as the beginning of Scouting.

 

After his marriage to Olave St Clair Soames, Baden-Powell, his sister Agnes Baden-Powell and notably his wife actively gave guidance to the Scouting Movement and the Girl Guides Movement. Baden-Powell lived his last years in Nyeri, Kenya, where he died and was buried in 1941.

 

EARLY LIFE

 

Baden-Powell was born as Robert Stephenson Smyth Powell, or more familiarly as Stephe Powell at 6 Stanhope Street (now 11 Stanhope Terrace), Paddington in London, on 22 February 1857.

After attending Rose Hill School, Tunbridge Wells, during which his favourite brother Augustus died, Stephe Baden-Powell was awarded a scholarship to Charterhouse, a prestigious public school. His first introduction to Scouting skills was through stalking and cooking game while avoiding teachers in the nearby woods, which were strictly out-of-bounds. He also played the piano and violin, was an ambidextrous artist, and enjoyed acting. Holidays were spent on yachting or canoeing expeditions with his brothers.

 

Military Career

 

In 1876, R.S.S. Baden-Powell, as he styled himself then, joined the 13th Hussars in India with the rank of lieutenant. He enhanced and honed his military scouting skills amidst the Zulu in the early 1880s in the Natal Province of South Africa, where his regiment had been posted, and where he was Mentioned in Dispatches. During one of his travels, he came across a large string of wooden beads, worn by Zulu King Dinizulu, which was later incorporated into the Wood Badge training programme he started after he founded the Scouting Movement. Baden-Powell's skills impressed his superiors and he was Brevetted Major as Millitary Secretary and senior Aide-de-camp of the Commander-in-Chief and Governor of Malta, his uncle General Sir Henry Augustus Smyth. He was posted in Malta for three years, also working as intelligence officer for the Mediterranean for the Director of Military Intelligence. He frequently travelled disguised as a butterfly collector, incorporating plans of military installations into his drawings of butterfly wings.

 

Baden-Powell returned to Africa in 1896 to aid the British South Africa Company colonials under siege in Bulawayo during the Second Matabele War. This was a formative experience for him not only because he had the time of his life commanding reconnaissance missions into enemy territory in Matobo Hills, but because many of his later Boy Scout ideas took hold here. It was during this campaign that he first met and befriended the American scout Frederick Russell Burnham, who introduced Baden-Powell to the American Old West and woodcraft (ie scoutcraft), and here that he wore his signature Stetson campaign hat and kerchief for the first time. After Rhodesia, Baden-Powell took part in a successful British invasion of Ashanti, West Africa in the Fourth Ashanti War, and at the age of 40 was promoted to lead the 5th Dragoon Guards in 1897 in India. A few years later he wrote a small manual, entitled Aids to Scouting, a summary of lectures he had given on the subject of military scouting, to help train recruits. Using this and other methods he was able to train them to think independently, use their initiative, and survive in the wilderness.

 

Baden-Powell was accused of illegally executing a prisoner of war, Matabele chief Uwini, in 1896, who had been promised his life would be spared if he surrendered. Uwini was shot by firing squad under Baden-Powell's instructions. Baden-Powell was cleared by an inquiry, and later claimed he was "released without a stain on my character".

 

He returned to South Africa prior to the Second Boer War and was engaged in further military actions against the Zulus. By this time, he had been promoted to be the youngest colonel in the British Army. He was responsible for the organisation of a force of frontiersmen to assist the regular army. While arranging this, he was trapped in the Siege of Mafeking, and surrounded by a Boer army, at times in excess of 8000 men. Although wholly outnumbered, the garrison withstood the siege of 217 days. Much of this is attributable to cunning military deceptions instituted at Baden-Powell's behest as commander of the garrison. Fake minefields were planted and his soldiers were ordered to simulate avoiding non-existent barbed wire while moving between trenches. Baden-Powell did most of the reconnaissance work himself.

 

Contrary views of Baden-Powell's actions during the Siege of Mafeking pointed out that his success in resisting the Boers was secured at the expense of the lives of African soldiers and civialians, including members of his own African garrison. Parkenham stated that Baden-Powell drastically reduced the rations to the natives' garrison. However, Parkenham decidedly retreated from this position.

 

During the siege, a cadet corps, consisting of white boys below fighting age, was used to stand guard, carry messages, assist in hospitals and so on, freeing the men for military service.  Although Baden-Powell did not form this cadet corps himself, and there is no evidence that he took much notice of them during the Siege, he was sufficiently impressed with both their tasks to use them later as an object lesson in the first chapter of Scouting for Boys. The siege was lifted in the Relief of Mafeking on 16 May 1900.

Promoted to major-general, Baden-Powell became a national hero. After organising the South African Constabulary, the national police force, he returned to England to take up a post as Inspector General of Cavalry in 1903. In 1907 he was appointed to command a division in the newly-formed Territorial Force.

 

In 1910 Lieutenant-General Baden-Powell decided to retire from the Army reputedly on the advice of King Edward VII, who suggested the he could better serve his country by promoting Scouting.

 

On the outbreak of World War 1 in 1914, Baden-Powell put himself at the disposal of the War Office. No command, however, was given him, for, as Lord Kichener said: "he could lay his hand on several competent divisional generals but could find no one who could carry on the invaluable work of the Boy Scouts." It was widely rumoured that Baden-Powell was engaged in spying, and intelligence officers took great care to inculcate the myth.

 

Scouting Movement

 

On his return from Africa in 1903, Baden-Powell found that his military training manual, Aids to Scouting, had become a best-seller, and was being used by teachers and youth organisations. Following his involvement in the Boys' Brigade as Brigade Secretary and Officer in charge of its scoutng section, with encouragement from his friend, WIlliam Alexander Smith, Baden-Powell decided to re-write Aids to Scouting to suit a youth readership. In August 1907 he held a camp on Brownsea Island Baden-Powell's from public schools Eton and Harrow to test out the applicability of his ideas. Baden-Powell was also influenced by Ernest Thompson Seton, who founded the Woodcraft Indians. Seton gave Baden-Powell a copy of his book The Birch Bark Roll of the Woodcraft Indians and they met in 1906. The first book on the Scout Movement, Baden-Powell's Scouting for Boys was published in six installments in 1908, and has sold approximately 150 million copies as the fourth bestselling book of the 20th century.

 

Boys and girls spontaneously formed Scout Troops and the Scouting Movement has inadvertently started, first as a national, and soon an international obsession  The Scouting Movement was to grow up in friendly parallel relations with the Boys' Brigade. A rally for all Scouts was held at Crystal Place in London in 1909, at which Baden-Powell discovered the first Girl Scouts. The Girl Guide Movement was subsequently founded in 1910 under the auspices of Baden-Powell's sister, Agnes Baden-Powell. Baden-Powell's friend, Juliette Gordon Low, was encouraged by him to bring the Movement to America, where she founded the Girl Scouts of the USA.

 

In 1920, the first World Scout Jamboree took place in Olympia, and Baden-Powell was acclaimed Chief Scout of the World. Baden-Powell was created a Baronet in the 1921 New Year Honours and Baron Baden-Powell, of Gilwell, in the Country of Essex, on 17 September 1929, Gilwell Park being the International Scout Leader training centre. After receiving his honour, Baden-Powell mostly styled himself "Baden-Powell of Gilwell".

 

Baden-Powell also had a positive impact on improvements in youth education. Under his dedicated command the world Scouting Movement grew. By 1922 there were more than a million Scouts in 32 coutries; by 1939 the number of Scouts was in excess of 3.3 million.

 

At the 5th World Scout Jamboree in 1937, Baden-Powell gave his farewell to Scouting, and retired from public Scouting life. 22 February, the joint birthday of Robert and Olave Baden-Powell, continues to be marked as Founder's Day by Scouts and Thinking Day by Guides to remember and celebrate the work of the Chief Scout and Chief Guide of the World.

 

In his final letter to the Scouts, Baden-Powell wrote:

... I have had a most happy life and I want each one of you to have a happy life too. I believe that God put us in this jolly world to be happy and enjoy life. Happiness does not come from being rich, nor merely being successful in your career, nor by self-indulgence. One step towards happiness is to make yourself healthy and strong while you are a boy, so that you can be useful and so you can enjoy life when you are a man. Nature study will show you how full of beautiful adn wonderful things God has made the world for you to enjoy. Be contended with what you have got and make the best of it. Look ont he bright side of things instead of the gloomy one. But the real way to get happiness is by giving out happiness to other people. Try and leave this world a little better than you found it and when your turn comes to die, you can die happy and feeling that at any rate you have not wasted your time but have done your best. 'Be Prepared' in this way, to live happy and to die happy - stick to your Scout Promise always - even after you have ceased to be a boy - and God help you do it.

 

Artist and Writer

 

Baden-Powell made paintings and drawings almost every day of his life. Most have a humorous or informative character. He published books and other texts during his years of military service both to finance his life and to educate his men.

 

Baden-Powell was regarded as an excellent storyteller. During his whole life he told 'ripping yarns' to audiences. After having published Scouting for Boys, Baden-Powell kept on writing more handbooks and educative materials for all Scouts, as well as directives for Scout Leaders. In his later years, he also wrote about the Scout Movement and his ideas for its future. He spent the last decade of his life in Africa, and many of his later books had African themes.

 

Baden-Powell died on 8 January 1941 and is buried in Nyeri, in St Peter's Cemetery. His gravestone bears a circle with a dot in the centre, which is the trail sign for "Going Home", or "I have gone home". When his wife Olave died, her ashes were sent to Kenya and interred beside her husband. Kenya has declared Baden-Powell's grave a national monument.

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